Squirrel, Revivified

So there I was. In the rain. Digging a grave.

OK, OK, let me back up. This was about a week or so ago, the day after Squirrel!Neo and Juliet!Jay had their little interaction and Mercutio!Jay entirely lost his shit. Anyway, for some reason I hadn’t had coffee with my oatmeal that morning, I was just going to deal with caffeination after I ran some ungodly number of miles. Just…remember that the series of events I am about to relate happened while I was completely uncaffeinated.

So. Kids were off to school, it was raining, I went out to put my freshly-charged IPod on the treadmill before I changed into my running togs. I yawned, glanced out into the back yard…and paused. And stared.

There was a dead squirrel in my back yard. He lay on his back, little paws curled up, soaking in the rain and covered with what looked like mud. I couldn’t tell at that distance. I just saw his white chest and his little spattered belly, and he was so, so still.

“Oh, Christ Jesus,” I actually breathed. “Neo!

I considered just doing my morning run and then dealing with the, ahem, crime scene. But then I thought of running six miles and staring at a dead rodent, and it just didn’t seem appetizing.

So I went to fetch a shovel.

This was the straight-edge shovel I bought when we needed to scrape moss off the roof ages ago. It’s practically new, and it’s a Serious Effing Shovel. Red and black and heavy-reinforced enough to be deadly in the right hands. You could seriously whap someone with this shovel and then use it to dig a grave in rocky soil. I believe in quality.

So there I was, in the rain, near where the compost pile used to be. I was half-soaked by the time I had a decent hole. I didn’t want the cats digging him up, or the possums, or anything. The little peanut-flinging cat-kicking bluejay-ambushing bastard was annoying, true. But he had also provided me with priceless amusement and (more importantly) several blog posts. I wanted him buried decently, at least.

I trudged across the wet, ankle-high grass (look, okay, I mowed this past week, all right? Don’t look at me like that.). My yard shoes were soaked, my socks were wet, the persistent rain was working its way through my hoodie, and my spectacles were already spattered with rain. But I was determined to Do The Right Thing. I approached the dead rodent with all due reverence, and gently worked the shovel underneath his supine form.

He was heavier than I thought he’d be. Dead weight, I thought, and I immediately felt bad, because I snickered. I tried to observe a proper gravitas as I carried him across the yard. My yard shoes are more like clogs, so I was shuffling through very wet grass and squelching a bit, which sort of defeated the gravitas. But I tried. I even kept my head up despite the rain smacking my spectacles. I figured a good show was the least I could give, right?

It took some doing to slide him gently into the hole.

I didn’t want to just fling him in, all right? I also didn’t want him to land all cockeyed and have me out there with the shovel trying to arrange him for his eternal rest. I am many things to many people, but a rodent undertaker is just not in my job description. He was sopping wet and covered with something that looked like mud and dried blood, and his fur was all rucked up already. His tail was a wet draggle. I just, I don’t know. I wanted him to be comfy in his little squirrel grave, all right? Don’t judge.

So I slid him gently off the shovel bed, and thank God he landed kindly. The bottom of the hole was very, very wet–I dig a good grave, thankyouverymuch. I believe in quality work. I took a nice big shovelful of wet, rocky dirt, steeled myself, and sprinkled it in the hole over the poor, wet, draggled little corpse.

I swear to God I heard thunder crackle. The next thing I knew, I was screaming “JESUS CHRIST!”

Because Squirrel!Neo? Had shot up into a crouch. His little black eyes snapped open, and he filled his teensy lungs. He began to produce a sound I can only describe as a squirrel’s imitation of Sam Kinison in a blender. It almost drowned out my scream.

This is the point at which I will kindly ask you to remember that I had not even had any coffee that morning.

So there I was. In the rain. The squirrel was screaming at me, I was screaming, I stumbled back and lost one of my clogs. My sock squelched in mud, and Squirrel!Neo hopped up to the edge of his grave and KEPT. MAKING. THAT SOUND. He moved quick, too, for a little bugger who had just been singing with the choir eternal. Once he’d gained the lip of his own grave, he actually bounded at me.

His eyes were on fire. His coat was shedding water and mud in rivers. I was out of my mind with fear.

I threw the shovel.

Yes, friends and neighbors, I threw a shovel half as tall as I am at a tiny revivified rodent. But that’s not the worst part. Oh, no. Are you ready for the worst?

I missed.

The shovel sailed over Neo’s head. It hit the corner between my and my neighbor’s fence with a clang that probably woke all the other dead wildlife in a mile radius. I should remind you that the squirrel was still making THAT NOISE and I hadn’t run out of air yet, so I was making a high-pitched squeal like a girl in a horror movie.

Hey, I’ll admit it. I’m not proud.

I kept backing up, wet sock flopping, spectacles now drenched, and Squirrel!Neo bounded forward twice more. Mud flew. Now, it was a scene of utmost tension, and I’m not sure I heard him right. But I think what he was saying went something like this:


At this point I’d run out of “Jesus Christ” and the horror-movie squeal, so I was cussing back. I tripped and went down–on my ass, thank you, and since I lost a lot of weight it hurt, and my teeth clicked together hard. Plus my pajamas–oh yeah, did I forget to mention that? I had not even changed out of my sleeping gear–now had mud and grass stain on them. And my spectacles were wet, goddammit.


Yeah, something like that. Squirrel!Neo bounded forward again. It was like the little bastard didn’t even need to breathe, because he was making THAT NOISE again, while he was cussing me out. I yelled something about zombie-f!cking-oatmeal-squirrels, grabbed my other shoe–my only remaining weapon other than my devastating ironic wit–and flung it at him.

This time, my dears, Li’l Lili Oakley didn’t miss. I nailed him with my yard shoe. He made an ulp! sound that would’ve been funny if I hadn’t immediately felt mortified. Yes. You read that right.

I felt guilty over hitting him with my shoe.

At least it stunned him into silence. He went ass over teakettle, fetched up on the edge of his own grave, stood up, shook himself like a golden retriever coming up out of the water, and dashed to my left. He made it to the juniper hedge and vanished.

Which left me in the rain, on my ass, shoeless, half-blind, calling down the wrath of God onto zombie Frankenstein ninja squirrels and their progeny yea unto the seventh generation. (Who knows? I’m a witch, it might stick.) I finally collected enough of my wits to stand up, shut my fool mouth, collect my shoes, and retreat inside to peel off my muddy clothes, wash my spectacles, and take my morning run. Oh yes, my dears. I ran six miles after that little episode, and I didn’t feel a single one of them because of all the adrenaline soaking through my nervous system.

But I sat down and had a cup of coffee first. My hands shook. I kept scanning the backyard nervously, and the rain intensified all that afternoon.

I left the goddamn shovel out there for a couple days, but I couldn’t leave it forever. The day I went out to get it, well.

Things got interesting.

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Interspecies Elizabethan Insults

What is that huge yellow fiery thing in the sky? It’s November, for heaven’s sake, we’re not supposed to see it! It burns! Augh!

…yeah, the sunlight’s making me a little silly today. It’s warm and the wind is up, whistling and calling my name as well as pawing through the windchimes. I did managed to get the lawn mowed, and was bombarded by pinecones. I think it was just the wind pulling them off the trees. I’m fairly sure it’s not Squirrel!Neo.

He’s got other problems.

So I promised I’d write what happened after the Battle of the Pine Boughs. To do that I’m going to have to take you back a week or so, to a gray rainy morning, dawn just coming up–I was on the treadmill early, and not happy about that. By the time I’d gone a couple miles it was light gray instead of pitch black outside, and the little woodland creatures were beginning to show up. Chief among them was Squirrel!Neo, and he had his eye on a lovely little lady bluejay–

Wait. I should tell you about Juliet!Jay. She’s a sweet little thing, and both Romeo!Jay and Mercutio!Jay appear to dance attendance on her. She’s not a hussy, she rarely shows up with both guys. When she does, they seem to want to outdo each other. Mercutio, of course, makes a godawful racket, screeching and “showing” her the bird feeder at least twenty times per visit. Romeo just sidles up and gives her longing looks while they’re both pecking at the bread I’ve scattered. I can’t tell who she likes better, although when she does show up with just one of them, it’s Romeo. At least, I think it’s not Mercutio, because he’s not screaming his tiny little head off.

Anyway, okay. So there’s Squirrel!Neo, and he’s acting kind of strange. Well, stranger than usual. He’s hopping once or twice, digging a bit, then looking coyly over his shoulder. After a while, I see a flash in the blueberry bushes–they’re turning lovely colors this year, really–and I realize Juliet is perched there, watching him intently. He keeps giving these sneaky little looks, and after a little while, she flies down to investigate.

Now came one of the strangest interspecies dances I’ve ever seen. Neo would dig a little, glance back at her, and hop away. Juliet would hop shyly up to the location, peck a little bit, and cock her head as if to say, nothing here, what’s wrong with you?

Each time, Neo stood a little bit closer to her. Then he led her to one of his favourite nut-burying hummocks, and dug. Hopped away, but not nearly as far as before. Juliet sidled, pecked a bit, and came up with something she apparently found very tasty and agreeable. She pecked for a little while, tilting her head back between bites to make everything slide down easy. Neo sidled closer and closer, and I was about to yell or something to warn her, because, well. Who knew what the fuzzy little bastard had planned? I popped my earbuds out and got ready to make a sudden noise, the pounding of my feet on the treadmill all but forgotten as I watched him get closer and closer. I didn’t even realize I was sweating, I was so absorbed.

I swear I saw one of Squirrel!Neo’s tiny little paws reaching out, as if he wanted to touch. Just the edge of her wing, maybe, some of her pretty plumage.

I think Juliet would’ve let him, too. But just then, Mercutio showed up, a ball of blue feathered outrage. Since I had my earbuds pulled out, I heard him clear as day in the dawn hush.


Juliet took wing, Squirrel!Neo scampered up into the plum tree, and Mercutio chased him from there into the juniper hedge, screaming Elizabethan bird-insults. (I swear I heard “mealymouth peasant” and “crude cockerel” in there somewhere.) Then Mercutio spent about ten minutes roaming my backyard, yelling at everything, even perching on the birdfeeder and chewing me out. Maybe I was supposed to be Juliet’s duenna or something, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bluejay that angry.

He was pretty incoherent, and Julie had vanished. I didn’t see her for a couple days after that, despite keeping my eyes peeled on the treadmill every single morning.

A couple days later, I found a body in the yard.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Battle of the Pine Boughs

I was just ho-hum, tossing some carbohydrate largess to the avians, when the bombs started falling.

It was early in the morning, after my usual five-mile run, a couple of days after my fence had been fired. I had a largish store of crusts to crumble for the feathered friends, and I was waiting for the local murder to figure out I was scattering calories for them. They usually sound the alarm, but Mercutio!Jay is always the first and bravest, swooping down after the crows start making their distinctive “OMG FOOD!” calls.

Anyway, there I was, humming a little song, looking forward to going inside and getting a fresh hot cuppa. All of a sudden, there were little plopping sounds.

What the hell?

I looked up. The sounds continued, and I finally realized I was under attack. Pinecones were being hurled from the trees in my neighbor’s yard, and an angry chittering broke the morning hush. Not one of the cones hit me, though they came awful close. I stood there with three plastic breadbags in one hand and a fistful of almost-molding potato rolls in the other, staring at the pine trees.

“Neo,” I said, out loud, “your aim sucks.”

I should not have taunted the rodents.

Then Mercutio!Jay arrived, screeching his head off. A flash of blue, feathers flying, he streaked across the yard from the opposite direction. He was utterly heroic. As close as I can figure, he was yelling, “TO ARMS! TO ARMS! FAIR LADY, FEAR NOT! TO ARMS!”

Well, of course, the crows heard his racket, began making a racket of their own, and they swooped in too. That’s when things got interesting.

So there I am, sweat still drying on me in the middle of a ring of breadcrumbs, jaw agape, the pinecone barrage halting as the crows flailed into the pine trees. Mercutio!Jay was in a perfect ecstasy of rage, hopping from foot to foot in the pussywillow tree and screaming “GET IN THERE, FELLOWS! TALLYHO! SPANK THOSE RODENTS!”

I started laughing. I couldn’t help myself. The pine trees looked like they were caught in a high wind, thrashing and cawing and chittering issuing from the darkness still caught in their branches. Then the pinecones started up again, and I learned something valuable: they hadn’t been trying to hit me.

No, I was just the bait. Because a tiny pinecone hurled out of the tree and smacked Mercutio!Jay, who make a strangled ulp! that might have been funny if it hadn’t sounded like it hurt. I gasped, he went over in a flurry of feathers, and the next thing I know he’d zoomed past me, flapping furiously, still screaming. “GODDAMMIT WOMAN GET UNDER COVER! IT’S ARTILLERY! MURDER! FIRE! ANARCHY! HALP!”

I stumbled backward, still laughing breathlessly, and I again discovered they weren’t aiming at me. Because I tripped over Tuxedo Kitty, who was belly down in the dew-laden grass, watching all this. I hadn’t even noticed him creeping out behind me, and I almost went ass-over-teakettle. Tuxedo Kitty squawked as I almost-stepped on him, and he shot off to my left toward the fence. On the way he was peppered with no less than three pinecones.

Squirrels are crack shots, apparently. Bombing me had just been to get everyone’s attention. I don’t know whether to feel grateful or insulted.

So there I was, regaining my balance with a dance step Ginger Rogers might’ve envied, dropping the rest of the potato rolls and furiously waving the plastic bread bags to signal distress, the ship’s going down, someone do something, while the pine trees thrashed and the crows made an absolutely unholy noise and the squirrels gave their rallying cries.

Then he showed up, winging majestically across the yard in his Capulet blue. It was Romeo!Jay, Mercutio’s best friend, the strong silent type. (Well, as silent as a bluejay ever gets, but still.) He nipped smartly into the pine trees’ recesses, and the tumult reached a fresh pitch.

I was still backing up, trying to look everywhere at once, and Mercutio!Jay circled back to me. He didn’t seem to be any the worse for wear, but he harried me across the yard until I was reasonably safe by the sunroom door. Then he wheeled about and zoomed up into the pine trees.

The Battle of the Pine Boughs lasted about ten seconds after that. Abruptly, a battlefield silence fell. I found out I was actually hugging myself, and my tongue was dry because my mouth was open, I was out of breath from helpless laughter, and I was cold. I watched the pine trees nervously. Nobody is going to BELIEVE this, I thought. Seriously. Squirrel artillery. What next?

The jays appeared first, fluttering down and landing in the middle of the bread. “DUDE,” Mercutio was saying. “DUDE, DID YOU SEE THAT? DID YOU? YOU WERE ALL, POW, AND BARTHOLOMEW!CROW WAS ALL LIKE ZAP! AND THOSE SQUIRRELS, MAN. DID YOU SEE WHAT THEY DID?”

Romeo!Jay shrugged, pecking at the bread. Both of them ignored me.

The crows came down one by one, (Bartholomew the largest was first, as usual) and the usual feeding-scrum developed, with Mercutio yelling at the crows and them laughing at him and eating anyway. I felt for the doorhandle, slid the French door open, and stepped inside to welcome warmth, backward so I could keep an eye on the yard. There was no sign of poor Tuxedo Kitty, who I had almost flattened. (It was his own damn fault anyway.)

A tiny movement caught my eye as I was bracing the door closed with a dowel. (Just to be sure, you understand.) I straightened, quickly, my back giving a twinge and gooseflesh all over me.

There in the back corner, perched on the fence behind a screen of blackberry leaves, was Squirrel!Neo. His tail was twitching furiously, and his beady little eyes were fixed on the birds. His little mouth moved, and even at that distance and without much knowledge of squirreltongue, I figured out what he was saying with little trouble.

“You bastards,” he was mouthing. “You bastards. Just you wait.”

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Neo And The Fence

First, the news: If you have an ebook reader and are in the US, and you want a sneak peek at the upcoming Jill Kismet book, Heaven’s Spite, check out the Orbital Drop.

Next, a question. My book-finding kung fu is usually pretty good. Which means I get calls in the middle of the night from people who can’t remember a specific title, or who know only the color of a book. (Hey, at least they’re calling. Otherwise I’d feel lonely.) But this particular request has me stumped.

Here’s what we know about the book: the cover was black, it had “Osiris” in the title, it was around in the mid-70s, and the publisher’s logo was an Aladdin’s cave-style oil lamp. Not sure if it’s hard or softcover, and it’s metaphysics/occult, not poetry or history. Any hints are welcome. (Translation: I am releasing the hounds of the Internet Hive Mind! HIDE!)

And now, about my fence.

A couple days after Squirrel Matrix Training, a day or so after the falling squirrels, I shambled to the treadmill in a fog. I yawned, climbed on, suppressed a coffee-tasting burp…and realized something was not quite right.

There was a huge bloody hole in my fence. I went out to examine, my jaw suspiciously loose.

I have a chain link fence with those plastic strips worked through the links for privacy. The metal bits were still standing, but the plastic had been melted in a five-plus-foot hole right behind the plum tree. At first I thought it was some kind of chemical, since the strips were gnarly-melted.

“Sonofabitch,” I said, plus other words too.

It used to be a beautiful field back behind my house. Alas, the Powers of Development arose and stuck an apartment complex there. It would be fine if the kids from the complex didn’t throw trash over my fence, or steal things out of my back yard before I put a lock on the gate back there–and let’s not even talk about the petty vandalism on the padlocks I put in, until the hedge-bushes managed to grow enough to make it hard to get to. The whole thing is compounded by the fact that there’s a humongous dustbin right behind my back gate, so there’s all sorts of bloody hijinks and interesting smells.

Anyway, there was the hole in my fence and I couldn’t do anything about it right at the moment. So I decided to repair to the treadmill and think about things. I didn’t trust my temper without exercise to ameliorate it, and the fence was already damaged. I was already in my exercise togs, I might as well get the run out of the way, take a shower, and then start planning. It sounded a very adult thing to do.

Right as my first mile clocked over, I saw the maintenance man from the complex taking pictures of the hole from his side of the fence, wedged into a convenient hole in the hedge. I was off the treadmill in two seconds and in the back yard to meet him.

“I hope you’re as concerned about this as I am,” was my opening shot.

The poor guy. Apparently there had been a fire the previous afternoon. Someone had called him instead of calling 911, it was a miracle the fire hadn’t spread to the plum tree or the juniper. And now here I was, breathing hard like a crazy woman, sweating a little, and in exercise togs.

“Damn kids,” I said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve had problems.”

He sighed, his shoulders slumped. “Well, yeah. I’m going to see if the landscapers can trim the bushes away, so parents can see their kids playing…”

I gave him an are-you-high? sort of look. I mean, come on. If the parents were paying attention the little cheeseheads wouldn’t be throwing crap over my fence all the time. “Um, that’s not such a good idea for me,” I said, rather diplomatically I think. “When the bushes were smaller we had a lot more rubbish thrown over the fence.”

He winced. “Well, you can just throw it back…” He seemed physically unable to end a sentence with a period. Instead he’d trail off, hang his head to the side a little, and give me a sheepish look.

That’s not the point, I thought, but manfully restrained myself. I did extract a halfass promise to get my fence fixed, which I will no doubt have to twist an arm or two to have made good upon. I don’t even want to think about that right now, it makes me tired. At this point I just wanted to go back and finish my run, and I was pretty sure he wanted to be anywhere else but there talking to me.

And then Maintenance Man glanced up over my shoulder. “Huh.”

I looked back. And I flinched.

Squirrel Neo was on the roof. Beady eye fixed upon us, he chittered loudly. I didn’t need a squirreltongue dictionary to figure out it was a warcry.

“Oh no,” I said. I was presented with one of those exotic moments–how do you explain to a guy just doing his job that a squirrel knows kung fu? How do you even begin to explain the squirrels falling out of the sky? Where do you even start with something like this?

I was saved the trouble. Because Neo hurled himself across my roof, leapt off, spun on the birdfeeder a couple times, was flung through the air, landed in the middle of my yard, and came scampering straight for us.

I didn’t have time to say more than “AUGH!” Maintenance Man let out a “Jesus Christ!” worthy of King Arthur. Imagine two grown adults quailing as a squirrel leaps through ankle-high grass–look, we’ve already established I should mow more, all right? Don’t judge. Anyway, we cowered.

It was not my finest moment.

However, we weren’t Neo’s targets. He leapt up into the plum tree and furiously upbraided us. Again, I’m not way up on my squirreltongue, but I think he was saying something like this:


“What the hell–” Maintenance Man stared in wonder. I was backing up.

Squirrel!Neo scrambled through the branches, extended in a flying leap, and landed on the fence not two feet from Maintenance Man, who let out another strangled sound. Neo scurried along the fence, all the way across my back yard, hopped down into the brush that used to hold the compost pile, and disappeared into my neighbor’s yard.

I took stock. We were both still alive. Nobody had been kicked in the head. “Jesus,” I breathed.

“Never seen one do that before…” Maintenance Man swallowed visibly. “So, yeah. Anyway. Thank goodness the fire didn’t spread…”

Did you not just SEE that? I stopped myself just in time. I mean, the situation was bad enough. I wouldn’t make it any better by ranting about a squirrel. See, this is the difference between me now and me fifteen-twenty years ago. I know to keep my fool mouth shut sometimes. “Yeah. Thank goodness nobody was hurt. I’d better get back to my treadmill. I look forward to having the fence fixed.”

And I beat a retreat.

I won’t lie. I felt better inside, with the sunroom door firmly closed and bolted.

After that, I didn’t see a single squirrel for a couple days. Am I a coward if I admitted I was grateful? My gratitude, however, was short-lived.

Neo wasn’t done yet.

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Squirrels Falling

The crows tried to warn me as I was walking back from the bus stop. The local murder was up in a fir tree behind the neighbor’s house, and they carried on until I called back. I think they knew I didn’t quite understand, I was busy planning out my day. Just let it be known they tried to warn me. It isn’t their fault.

This was, of course, the day after I witnessed Squirrel!Neo’s training. My fence was still intact. (We’ll get to the fence in the next post, I promise. Bear with me.) I kind of wondered if anything would happen while I was on the treadmill, but it was dead quiet.

Too quiet.

I did see Mercutio!Jay, stuffing himself with bread in the usual manner. The crows came down and picked at the bread too, ignoring Mercutio’s bad-tempered screeching. They paid me no mind, having apparently done all they could. All was serene.

It wasn’t until I was on my fifth and final mile that I realized something was happening. I tore my earbuds out and listened, trying to focus over the soughing of my breath and the sound of the treadmill’s motor, the pounding of my feet. If I still had the old squeaky treadmill I never would have noticed it. Scrabbling sounds? Something?

What the hell is that? I listened as hard as I could all through the final mile, which passed agonizingly slowly without music. Huh. It’s coming from the roof.

As soon as I finished the last mile I hit the stop button. Breathing hard, covered in sweat, I cocked my head and was rewarded.

Well, maybe rewarded isn’t the right word. It sounded like there was a goddamn moose on my roof.

What the– I seriously did not even get to finish the thought. It was at that moment the squirrel fell.

It gamely tried to grab the birdfeeder hanging in front of the sunroom window, missed, and plunged to the grass. It was up again in an instant, shaking its head, and another one followed, making the same desperate grab for the feeder.

“Jesus!” I yelled, actually jumping on the treadmill. Squirrels 1 and 2 scrambled for the fence to my right, buttonhooking around the edge of my garage, and the scrabbling on the roof intensified.

And another squirrel fell.

I stared. It’s raining Rodentia. No, they’ve gone lemming. Wait–they’re lying in wait for Santa a few months early. What the bloody hell?

Another squirrel hurtled down, making the same grab for the feeder. “Ohhhhhhh,” I breathed. “You sonsabitches! That’s for the bloody birds, you morons!

I kept ranting. The squirrels kept falling.

At this point I realized I was standing on my treadmill, dripping with sweat, screaming in my sunroom while squirrels streaked to earth like meteors. I realized there was about five of them, and they were running laps–around the corner of my garage, up the juniper bush around the front, onto the roof, across the house to the sunroom, and searching for a way to get to the birdfeeder. They were determined, and one actually grabbed the lip of the feeder and was spun as it twirled on its rope, then shaken off and flung to the ground. By that point, they were all looking a bit stunned.

The last one to fall off was Squirrel!Neo. I’d recognize that cocked tail and beady glare anywhere. He lay for a second in the dew-wet grass, then hopped to his feet and stared at me. We stood like that, woman and squirrel, both of us out of breath. I swallowed the last half of the sentence I was about to yell.

This isn’t over, he seemed to be saying. Bitch, this is so not over.

At this point, I’m afraid, my temper snapped. “Oh, yeah?” I put both hands on my hips. “Bring it, you fuzzy-assed moron. Bring it.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, he scampered away. There was a final scurry on my roof, heading for the bedrooms and the hedge and fence. The squirrels all disappeared into the hedge, and I began to feel a little nervy. I tried to tell myself it was just a squirrel, and after all, I had Mercutio on my side, right? I was the tool-using mammal with the opposable thumb and thousands of years of technology on my side. I could handle a squirrel.

I had no idea what was coming.

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Training Is Everything

I only have a couple minutes today. There’s been more Squirrel Terror, so I’ll just update you on that. At least, I’ll update you on part of it. I just…I don’t even know.

Apparently Squirrel!Neo took getting laughed at pretty seriously. After his plan involving Mercutio ignominiously failed, we had a couple days of peace. Then, last week–maybe it was Tuesday, because my fence was still there (more on that later, I promise)–I climbed on the treadmill and was actually relaxing a little bit, thinking that I would have a nice easy run without any shenanigans.

I was wrong.

It didn’t take me long to realize Neo was lurking about. Not only that, but there was another squirrel in my yard. The two faced each other in sunlit grass, noses twitching, before Neo leapt on the intruder and a fursplosion occurred. The other squirrel would chitter contemptuously every time Neo was flung back.

I actually thought the newcomer was some punk looking to take over Neo’s territory, and of course, I started rooting for Neo. (Better the squirrel demon you know than a new one, right?) But something didn’t seem quite right, even when Mercutio!Jay showed up, perching on the fence and eying the proceedings with great interest.

Then something amazing happened.

Squirrel!Neo broke away, and I swear to God the other squirrel yelled, “Good game! Now, lap time! MOVE IT!”

And Squirrel!Neo (I am NOT making this up) headed for the plum tree like his tail was on fire.

He shimmied up the plum tree, foliage shook, and he leapt for the fence. Stuck the landing, barreled past a bemused Mercutio!Jay (who fluttered up to the hedge behind, still cocking his head in a bemused fashion) and jumped up into the pussywillow. He proceeded to perform a two-minute acrobatic routine in the willow, leaves fluttering madly, then he leapt back down to the fence and disappeared into the neighbor’s yard. Thirty seconds later he was back, streaking across open space past the other squirrel, who stood motionless.

Neo did this three times, acrobatics included. I was tired just watching him. Mercutio watched silently, and the other squirrel just stood there, watching, his tail occasionally twitching. He was a big dude, too. At least a head taller than Neo, which, granted, isn’t saying much. They’re squirrels. Still, he had great posture.

After the third lap, Neo skidded to a stop in the middle of the yard and looked at the bigger squirrel. They stared at each other, and then, I swear, the bigger squirrel nodded. They both broke at the same instant for the juniper hedge and vanished.

Mercutio!Jay coasted across the yard, settled in the feeder in front of my window, and had his breakfast. Every once in a while, he would stop and stare sidelong at the yard, as if trying to figure out what the hell he’d just seen. Once he finished pecking at the birdseed, he stopped, his wings flicking absently.

Then he tilted his head and stared at me, like he was trying to tell me we’d seen something momentous. I pondered this as I ran. It was almost the end of the third mile.

“Holy shit!!” I yelled, suddenly. “Oh my God!”

Mercutio hopped twice, like he couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it earlier.

“Holy shit!” I yelled again, as the mileage clicked over to mile four. “MERCUTIO! THAT WAS F!CKING MORPHEUS! HE’S TRAINING NEO! THAT WAS SQUIRREL KUNG FU TRAINING!”

I swear to God the bluejay rolled his eyes at me. He took off in a flash of blue feathers, and I began to laugh. Within sixty seconds, though, I’d stopped laughing, and not just because I was running.

Because I’d realized, you see, that Neo in training…well.

I’m a little afraid for my bluejay hero.

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A Squirrel’s Classic Blunder

Eighty-plus degrees. Terrible humidity. I cannot believe this is September, and it doesn’t matter anyway, since the book is eating my head. Sometimes the shift from recalcitrant huge book-thing I have to drag with my teeth to galloping bronco pulling me along in the dust as I frantically try to stay upright is extraordinarily abrupt.

So, I only have a few moments, and I should record this extraordinary thing in the annals of SquirrelTerror.

I did mow the lawn this weekend–no, that was not the extraordinary thing, jeez, I know I don’t do it as much as I should, but I’m busy, all right? (Defensiveness, another symptom of approaching deadline.) ANYWAY. I was waiting to see what Squirrel!Neo would think of this, but ever since I hacked the grass into something resembling a reasonable suburban lawn there was no sight of him.

Until this morning.

The quiet did terrible things to my nerves, so I was almost relieved this morning to see the fuzzy little jerk up in the pussywillow tree, clinging in a fork and surveying the shorn grass. He stayed there so long I almost felt guilty for mowing, I imagined him thinking about the nuts he must have hidden and how the grass probably wouldn’t provide a safe cover for them now. I even imagined him bemoaning a natural disaster that had descended on his little patch, stunned by the seeming capriciousness. What does a squirrel know of the weekend and the various exigencies of lawn care?

Yes. I felt sorry for the little bugger.

I shouldn’t have.

He perched in the pussywillow for a good half hour while I ran, and I was even getting to the point where I imagined him sending me little reproachful glances from his beady little rodent eyes as he slid back and forth, checking the sight lines and contingencies. He looked utterly hangdog. I even thought–I am completely serious–that when I was done with five miles I’d go out and scatter some bread for him.

That was when Mercutio!Jay showed up.

He glided in to land on his usual branch, silently–maybe he was uneasy, maybe he was thinking about something else–and with enviable power and authority, as befit the master of the backyard.

And Squirrel!Neo sprang.

Barely had Mercutio!Jay landed before Squirrel!Neo, the doughty warrior who had lain in wait for so long, hit Mercutio’s favorite branch like a ton of bricks. The branch whipped back and forth, Mercutio!Jay was thrown.

But Squirrel!Neo had committed a classic blunder. The first is never get into a land war in Asia, and we all know what the second is. Apparently, Squirrel!Neo had this great plan, except he forgot one tiny detail.

Bluejays can fly. Or, more precisely, Neo forgot that jays fly…

…and squirrels, so far, do not.

Mercutio!Jay started shrieking and flapping, and I swear I saw a flash of triumph on Squirrel!Neo’s fuzzy snout before he realized he was falling. He flurried desperately, and now we get to the extraordinary thing.

He scrabbled, sliding down a long thin whippy branch, and he almost made it. I gasped, Mercutio!Jay was still screaming as he settled back on his favorite perch (I am not sure, but I think he was yelling “JESUS CHRIST! WHAT THE F!CK, YOU KUNG-FU WISEASS? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”), and Squirrel!Neo clutched desperately…

…and fell. He hit a metal bench set under the fence, then did this amazing flip off the bench and landed on the lawn, braced on all fours. His tail switched once, twice, and I could hear the theme music swelling.

Mercutio!Jay hopped from foot to foot. I could swear he was doing the Carlton. His beak moved, and again, I am not up on my bluejaytongue, but I believe he was taunting little Neo.


Squirrel!Neo’s lips moved.

I could swear he said “Sonofabitch,” before he scampered for the plum tree and disappeared.

This does not bode well.

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